Keeping your portfolio above water in these markets is no easy task. Companies can be too easily whipsawed by the whimsical musings of the Treasury Department or the Fed, making investors who've successfully navigated these rough waters rare indeed. A steady track record of staying afloat is even more impressive.

The All-Stars in our Motley Fool CAPS investor intelligence database have found themselves particularly adroit at consistently steering their picks through these turbulent markets. Let's look at some of the recent picks of this community's longtime investing mavens. If these All-Stars have been able to maintain their top status through bull and bear markets alike, their opinions on stocks for the months and years ahead might be worth watching.

CAPS Member

Member Rating

Member Since

Recent Stock Pick

CAPS Rating (5 Stars Max)

Call

slbutton

99.72

9/15/06

Montpelier Re (NYSE:MRH)

****

Outperform

leohaas

99.74

8/2/06

Alon USA (NYSE:ALJ)

****

Outperform

ajcmr3

99.73

12/18/06

UltraShort Financial Proshares (NYSE:SKF)

**

Outperform

IdahoInvestor

99.73

10/5/06

Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ:ESLR)

***

Underperform

1stock1

99.71

12/27/06

3M (NYSE:MMM)

*****

Outperform

Rowing against the current
According to some industry projections, global solar power capacity will triple to 27.6 gigawatts by 2012, powered not by the sun, but by the falling cost of new solar technologies. Those reports say production costs for thin-film and monocrystalline photovoltaic cells will fall below $1.50 per watt.

Let's hope companies like Evergreen Solar will be around to see it. It's a vertically integrated producer that makes the silicon wafers, solar cells, and panels needed for solar collection, all under a single roof. At least it is currently. That might change, as management has indicated it is looking to find contractors to make the cells and assemble the panels from wafers that it sells them. In the wake of a disappointing fourth-quarter earnings report, Evergreen Solar is switching gears, it seems, to concentrate on its string ribbon technology.

Since Evergreen has been able to manufacture its products using 30% to 35% less silicon per watt than traditional solar companies like Suntech Power (NYSE:STP) or Yingli Green Energy (NYSE:YGE), it enjoyed a competitive advantage when polysilicon prices soared as a result of a shortage. When polysilicon producers expanded capacity, the bottleneck was removed, causing polysilicon prices to plummet. That plunge erased much of the advantage that Evergreen's technology held.

It also doesn't help that there's a glut of solar panels. Suntech's CEO, for example, said back in December that he expects the oversupply to push dollar-denominated prices of panels down another 25% to 30% this year. That's going to be hard on smaller players like Evergreen, which is already seeing its margins pinched. In the most recent quarter, the solar concern reported gross margins of just 4.6%, down from 5.7% in the third quarter and well below the 28.1% margins it enjoyed a year ago.

Despite the dire prediction, some investors see hope not only in the stimulus plan just signed into law, which was chockablock with clean energy provisions, but in the government wanting to lead by example. CAPS member 3RingGS says that if the government begins to purchase solar panels for itself, Evergreen would be able to win any competitive bidding round because it is a low-cost producer.

Even though Analyst seem to think [Evergreen Solar] has lost its advantage with costs saved on the silicon manufacturing process I beg to differ. In the event the government decides to start purchasing solar alternatives for its energy infrastructure. They will undoubtedly go with the manufacturer that can produce at the lowest cost possible through competitive bidding. If Evergreen can make it cheaper no matter how slight the advantage. They will win out in the competitive government bidding process. This slight advantage will ensure they come out a winner over their industrial rivals.

Ahoy there!
Whether you've been in the markets for years or are new to them, it pays to start your own research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS. Read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made, all from a stock's CAPS page. Then share your views with the CAPS community on whether these old salts have the wind in their sails.

Montpelier Re is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems and a Stock Advisor pick. 3M is an Inside Value recommendation. Suntech Power Holdings is a Rule Breakers selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.